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Is Monsanto’s Roundup Killing Our Soil?

Our most widely used herbicide is draining the life from the earth.

Roundup HerbicideWe’ve often argued against “biotech” or genetically modified crops and the accompanying use of glyphosate herbicide — trade name Roundup — because of its effects on human health, sustainability, and its culpability in creating a new class of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” that are spreading across America’s farm country. Now comes word that Roundup is killing not just weeds but the very soil in which we grow our crops.

This article in The New York Times  explains the negative effects glyphosate has on soil, effects that include compaction and resultant runoff, the killing of beneficial microbes and bacteria, and the exhaustion of necessary minerals and other nutrients that plants require.

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The article also shows how nearby use of Roundup affects farmers not using the “Roundup Ready” system of growing GMO crops coupled with the spraying of glyphosate. One farmer describes how he loses corn every time his neighbor sprays Roundup and the herbicide drifts onto his conventionally grown corn. Worse, his neighbor’s fields have become so compacted that every time it rains, Roundup-laden runoff floods his conventional crops. “Anything you put on the land affects the chemistry and biology of the land, and that’s a powerful pesticide,” the farmer is quoted as saying.

Evidence is starting to mount that what that farmer says is true. A 2009 review of studies (PDF) published in The European Journal of Agronomy titled “Glyphosate interactions with physiology, nutrition, and diseases of plants: Threat to agricultural sustainability?” catalogs the problems. Written by Robert Kremer from the United States Agricultural Department, it calls for a variety of strategies to deal with the problems caused by Roundup, not all of them calling for an end to its use.

In an interview for The Organic and Non-GMO Report, Kremer explained how glyphosates not only kill beneficial microbes and bacteria but encourage the spores that produce the fungi responsible for sudden-death syndrome that affects both corn and soybeans. Glyphosate “locks up” manganese (PDF) and other minerals in the soil so that they can’t be utilized by the plants that need them. It’s also toxic to rhizobia, the bacterium that fixes nitrogen in the soil. Kremer found that some Roundup ready crops are more susceptible to Fusarium, a type of fungi that produces mycotoxins in cereal crops that are harmful, even deadly, to humans.

Kremer also discovered evidence the glyphosates can make their way to ground water supplies, something long denied by its producers.

The most visible evidence of Roundup’s harm is given in the Times article:

Dirt in two fields around Alton where biotech corn was being grown was hard and compact. Prying corn stalks from the soil with a shovel was difficult, and when the plants finally came up, their roots were trapped in a chunk of dirt. Once freed, the roots spread out flat like a fan and were studded with only a few nodules, which are critical to the exchange of nutrients.

In comparison, conventional corn in adjacent fields could be tugged from the ground by hand, and dirt with the consistency of wet coffee grounds fell off the corn plants’ knobby roots.

The article also demonstrates the stranglehold Monsanto has on farmers who’ve used their products for years and are afraid that their profits will be cut if they don’t. Maybe they should be asked what their children will grow once glyphosates have killed off their soil but no longer controls weeds.

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